Ensete ventricosum

Ensete ventricosum (F. M. J. Welwitsch, Apont. no. 45: 545 & 587, (1859)) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 101 (1947) and R. E. D. Baker & N. W. Simmonds, Kew Bulletin 8 (3): 405 (1953) with correction in Kew Bulletin 8 (4): 574 (1953).

Accepted name Ensete ventricosum (F. M. J. Welwitsch) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 101 (1947) and R. E. D. Baker & N. W. Simmonds, Kew Bulletin 8 (3): 405 (1953) with correction in Kew Bulletin 8 (4): 574 (1953).
Synonyms 1. Musa ensete J. F. Gmelin, Syst. Nat. ed. 13, 2: 567 (1791).

2. Musa ventricosa F. M. J. Welwitsch, Apont. no. 45: 545 & 587, (1859).

3. Musa buchananii J. G. Baker, Annals of Botany 7: 207 (1893).

4. Musa schweinfurthii K. M. Schumann & O. Warburg ex K. M. Schumann, Engl. Pflanzenreich. 4, 45 (Musaceae): 14 (1900).

6. Musa arnoldiana E. A. J. De Wildeman, Bull. Soc. Etud. Colon. Brux. 8: 339 (1901).

7. Musa holstii K. M. Schumann, Engl. Bot. Jahrb. 34: 121 - 124 (1904).

8. Musa ulugurensis O. Warburg & O. Moritz ex O. Warburg, Tropenpflanzer 8: 116 (1904).

9. Musa fecunda O. Stapf, J. Linn. Soc. (Bot.) 37: 526 (1906).

10. Musa laurentii E. A. J. De Wildeman, Mission E. Laurent, 1: 371 - 374, t. 130, fig. 61 - 62. (1907) and Pl. Trop. de Grande Culture, 1: 379 (1908).

11. Musa bagshawei A. B. Rendle & S. Greves, Journal of Botany, British and Foreign. 48: 169 [t. 506] (1910).

12. Musa davyae O. Stapf, Kew Bulletin :102 (1913).

13. Musa ruandensis E. A. J. De Wildeman, Bull. Jard. Bot. Brux. 8: 111 (1923).

14. Musa rubronervata E. A. J. De Wildeman, Bull. Jard. Bot. Brux. 8: 112 (1923).

15. Ensete edule P. F. Horaninow, Prodromus Monographiae Scitaminarum, 41 (1862).

16. Ensete buchanani (J. G. Baker) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 102 (1947).

17. Ensete schweinfurthii (K. M. Schumann & O. Warburg) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 103 (1947).

18. Ensete arnoldianum (E. A. J. De Wildeman) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 103 (1947).

19. Ensete holstii (K. M. Schumann) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 103 (1947).

20. Ensete ulugurense (O. Warburg) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 103 (1947).

21. Ensete fecundum (O. Stapf) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 103 (1947).

22. Ensete laurentii (E. A. J. De Wildeman) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 103 (1947).

23. Ensete bagshawei (A. B. Rendle & S. Greves) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 103 (1947).

24. Ensete davyae (O. Stapf) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 104 (1947).

25. Ensete ruandense (E. A. J. De Wildeman) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 104 (1947).

26. Ensete rubronervatum (E. A. J. De Wildeman) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2) : 104 (1947).

27. Musa africana Hort., Bull. Cat. 6 (1871).

28. Musa kaguna E. Chiovenda, Racc. Bot. Miss. Consol. Kenya. : 119 (1935).

Note: Various other African Musa transferred to Ensete by Cheesman 1947a are possibly referable to Ensete ventricosum but were rejected by Baker & Simmonds 1953 as follows:

Musa livingstoniana J. Kirk and Ensete livingstonianum (J. Kirk) E. E. Cheesman; type description mixes elements of E. gilletii and E. edule and rejected as nomen confusum.

Musa proboscidea D. Oliver and Ensete proboscideum (D. Oliver) E. E. Cheesman; type description vague and rejected as nomen dubium.

Musa elephantorum K. M. Schumann & O. Warburg and Ensete elephantorum (K. M. Schumann & O. Warburg) E. E. Cheesman; type destroyed in Berlin Herbarium during WW II and rejected as nomen dubium.

Authorities The authorities for the accepted name are Cheesman 1947a and Baker & Simmonds 1953 as corrected (see below).

The sources for the synonyms are as follows:

1 - 26 are from Baker & Simmonds 1953 as corrected (see below).
27 is from Baker 1893.
28 is from WCM


Ensete ventricosum ranges widely in Africa: Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Description Tall plants of 4 - 12 m. Pseudostem up to 5 m ; often variably stained purple or purplish-brown ; with pale-whitish latex that reddens on exposure to air. Leaves borne in a banana-like crown ; erect or spreading ; oblong-lanceolate ; lamina bright (yellow-) green or variably stained with red-brown, more or less glaucous beneath. Midribs green, red or purple-brown. Petioles short. Bracts green without, coloured within dark claret-brown, dull claret-brown, red, purple, greenish-brown, green or streaked pale-greenish ; lanceolate-oblong, subacuminate or obtuse ; slightly imbricate. Male bracts persistent or semi-deciduous (rotting away), densely overlapping. Bracts subtending hermaphrodite flowers persistent and partially covering the fruits. Inflorescence drooping, with massive male bud. Male flowers white with orange-yellow tipped lobes ; outer perianth linear-oblong, 3-lobed ; inner perianth serrate-apiculate, but apiculum sometimes absent ; stamens 5, anthers violet-purple, filaments white, staminode absent or minute and acicular, style acicular. Hermaphrodite flowers with orange-yellow tipped perianth and 3-lobed outer perianth and 2 extra acicular lobes internally attached ; inner tepals 1 - 3, variable in shape with 2 wings and apiculus of 1 - 5 cm ; stamens 1-5, anthers violet to dark-purple and slightly longer than filaments, with large capitate stigma and yellow or greyish pollen ; staminodes variable in number and size, depending on number of stamens present. Occasionally female flowers, without stamens but with staminodes. Fruits trilocular, tapering to the base, hardly pedicillate, 8 - 15 x 4.5 cm, with persistent style and floral remains and obtuse apex. Mature fruits dry ; bright or yellow-orange with orange pulp. Seeds large (12 - 18 mm in diameter), up to 40 per fruit, hard and glossy black or greyish-brown ; irregularly subspherical ; from deeply striate to almost smooth ; usually with callus lump opposite the hilum, with small depression in centre.

(Baker 1893, Baker & Simmonds 1953, Simmonds 1960, Lock 1993).
References Aluka, Argent 1984, Baker 1893: 207, Baker 1898: 330, Baker & Simmonds 1953: 414 & 574, Burkill 1935: 1534 - 1535, Champion 1949: 19 - 24, Champion 1967: 9 - 10, 43, Cheesman 1947a: 101, De Wildeman 1912: 358 - 359, Fawcett 1913: 275, Graf Exotica, Graf Tropica, Griffiths 1994, GRIN, Horaninow 1862, Huxley 1992, INIBAP, Kew Bulletin 1894: 241, Lebrun & Stork: 33 - 34, Lock 1993: 3 - 4, Mobot Tropicos, Moore 1957: 192, RHS 1956, Retief & Herman 1997: 108, Robyns & Tournay 1955: 402 - 404, Rossel 1998: 15 et seq., 24 et seq., 42 et seq., Schumann 1912: 14, 59 - 60, Simmonds 1960: 206, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212.
Comments Ensete ventricosum came to be the name for the most widespread Ensete in Africa despite the fact that Ensete edule was the first and only Ensete named by P. F. Horaninow when he created the genus in 1862. This occurred as follows:

In 1859 Welwitsch named an Angolan banana species Musa ventricosa (meaning big-bellied or pot-bellied) on account of its swollen stem base. This species seems not to have been known to Horaninow who did not include it in his 1862 conspectus of Musa. In reviving the genus Ensete in 1947 Cheesman took Ensete edule as his type and transferred Musa ventricosa to Ensete ventricosum, species number 4 out of 25. From the outset Cheesman suspected there might be synonymy in his list of 25 Ensete species and this indeed proved to be the case.

Baker & Simmonds 1953 review of the genus Ensete in Africa radically reduced the number of species either rejecting or reducing to synonyms most of Cheesman's African Ensete. Baker and Simmonds' original paper seemed to reduce Ensete ventricosum to a synonym of Ensete edule and establish that species as the principal Ensete of Africa. However, when it was noticed that, via Musa ventricosa, Ensete ventricosum took priority over Ensete edule by three years a substantial correction appeared in the following issue of Kew Bulletin. This correction reduced Ensete edule to a synonym of Ensete ventricosum (please refer to R. E. D. Baker & N. W. Simmonds, Kew Bulletin 8 (4): 574 (1953)). Musa ensete of course dates to 1791 and has priority over the other names. However, the name was not available to use since it would have created the unacceptable tautology of Ensete ensete.

The correction to Baker & Simmonds established Ensete ventricosum as the principal Ensete of Africa but even that species' days may be numbered. Simmonds (1960) comments that he can see no reliable differences between the Asian Ensete glaucum and the African Ensete ventricosum. He speculates that it might ultimately be necessary to reduce Ensete ventricosum to a synonym of Ensete glaucum. The basionym for Ensete glaucum, Musa glauca, was published by Roxburgh in 1814.

Variation within Ensete ventricosum.

Ensete ventricosum is a highly polymorphic species as may perhaps be deduced from the variety of names under which it has been described from sites throughout its large African range. Variations within E. ventricosum are found in:

  • The colour of the midribs (red or green)
  • The colour of the leaves (from green to heavily stained with red-brown)
  • The colour of the bracts (red, purple or green)
  • Waxiness
  • Bract persistence
  • Certain floral details, even in different parts of the same inflorescence, e.g.
    • The basal flowers are commonly hermaphrodite but rarely found to be functionally female
    • The outer tepal is very variable, normally with 3 lobes but sometimes with 1 - 2 smaller, acicular and internally attached extra lobes
    • There are 1 - 3 variably-shaped inner tepals
    • The number of stamens varies between 0 - 5
    • The number of staminodes is variable, depending on the number of stamens, and their size is also variable
    • The male flowers vary greatly in size (partly correlated with age) and in the form of the perianth parts
  • Seed varies as follows:
    • Seed numbers vary from 0 - 40 seeds per fruit (mainly due to differences in pollination or fertilisation)
    • Seed varies in shape, from nearly spherical (if few seeds per fruit) to flattened-irregular (if many seeds per fruit); in surface characters, from smooth to deeply striate; and in decoration, with or without a lump of callus opposite the hilum sometimes with a shallow depression in its centre
    • Seed varies in size, e.g.
    • Ethiopia 3.33 cc.
    • northern Kenya and Uganda 1.64 - 2.90 cc.
    • Democratic Republic of Congo 1.83 - 3.24 cc.
    • Angola to Transvaal, Malawi to Tanzania and southern Kenya 2.64 - 5.67 cc.
    • north-eastern Tanzania and southern Kenya 4.83 - 5.67 cc.

For comparison, seed sizes of the other two African species are 0.38 - 0.69 cc. for E. gilletii and 0.16 - 0.22 cc. for E. homblei.

Variation types are not correlated and, as is the case with the extremely variable Musa acuminata, variation is geographically discontinuous.

(Simmonds 1962: 47, Baker & Simmonds 1953: 409 - 410, 414 - 415).

E. ventricosum is a fascinating plant from a horticultural but also from an ethnobotanical viewpoint, see for example:



Horticulturally, Ensete ventricosum is the easiest Ensete to find commercially. It is quite easy to grow into a huge plant even in a temperate garden although it requires overwintering under protection in most years. Most commercially available plants are grown from seed but micropropagation is also applied to selected forms see Ensete ventricosum cultivars.


There are eight images of Ensete ventricosum.
There are many external images of Ensete ventricosum at the Aluka website http://www.aluka.org.

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last updated 26/10/2007